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Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Family's Recipes - Grammy's Peanut Butter Cornflake Candy

One of my dad's presents, Grammy's Candy.

I can remember, as a girl, this candy was always set out at my Grammy and Pappy's house for Christmas. My grandparents lived across the street from each other, so Christmas Eve included a meal and presents at Grandma Betty and Little Pappy's house, then dessert and presents at Grammy and Big Pappy's house. (I don't know how the Pappies felt about their honorifics. Big Pappy happened to be well over 6 feet tall. I know that occasionally I have been Big Susan. I wasn't so crazy about it. The other Susan happened to be right around 5 feet tall.) One year, Big Pappy told me, "I could keep eating this until I'm just about sick!"

We haven't had this candy since Pappy passed away. I was cruising the Internet for recipes (as I often do) and saw one that I knew must be a match. I want to give credit where credit is due - Aunt Altha's Candy - is a tradition from another family. She says that her recipe was given to her mom from her new husband's family after their marriage over 50 years ago. This one has been around for a while. I'm so glad we can all share and recapture the things our families may have lost along the way. The older I get, the more I appreciate the little things that make me think of those I loved.

By the way, this is rediculously easy and delicious.

Grammy's Peanut Butter and Cornflake Candy
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
pinch of salt
1 cup chunky peanut butter
1 box of cornflakes (The small one)

Place the sugar, corn syrup and salt in a heavy sauce pan. Heat over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until well blended. Place the corn flakes into a large mixing bowl and pour the peanut butter mixture over the top. Stir until all the cereal is coated. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment or wax paper. Spread the candy into the lined pan with buttered hands and flatten out slightly. Let cool. Remove from the pan and cut into squares.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Jammin' Sweet Potatoes

 I like to imagine I have followers. The official count is up to 12. If anyone has peeked in here, even semi-regularly, they will have noticed that I love all things sweet potato and butternut squash. Savory or sweet, main dish or dessert, you just can't go wrong with these affordable, nutritional power houses! Of course, we home cooks do like to gild the lily. But, please, in a NON-marshallowy way!
We had a big holiday luncheon at my office yesterday. We have one cranky old stove to accommodate cooking for about 180 people. Whenever we have a luncheon, hot dishes are really better kept in a crock pot. I made these sweets the night before and plugged them in to reheat in the morning. They were nicely heated and delicious after about 3 1/2 hours.

I love sweet and savory together. Not all people do. This is lightly sweet and gets richness from plenty of butter. Of the three sweet potato dishes offered, this one came in a strong second. The dish that went first was a sweet and topped with a crunchy nut topping. The dish covered with marshmallows came in dead last and most of it went home with its provider. If you love pineapple, you will love this dish. If you don't wish to make your own plum and pineapple jam, use straight pineapple or apricot/pineapple from the store.

Jammin' Sweet Potatoes
7 lbs sweet  potatoes
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup plum and pineapple jam

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Steam until tender. Remove to a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mash to desired consistency. You can serve immediately or reheat in a crock pot later.

Serves very many people!

Monday, December 12, 2011

White Chocolate, Raspberry and Almond Bars

So, white chocolate doesn't drizzle. Clumps of white chocolate taste good too.

As I'm preparing for the holidays, I'm reaching another jam crisis in my refrigerator. I'm really working on using all the bits and pieces and unsealed jars from the summer and fall. I really like these Orange Marmalade Bars, and thought it would be easy to rearrange the flavors to accommodate any jam. The version I made this week includes an almond flavored cookie base and red raspberry jam. Unfortunately, I learned that white chocolate can be tricky and doesn't drizzle the way dark melted chocolate will. I just can't make another pan of these right now! I took them to work and still ate too many! I considered naming these OMG Cookie Bars based on Mr. Dwayne's initial reaction, but decided on a descriptive title instead. 

So, here's my plan for the white chocolate next time: Sprinkle the white chocolate on the cookie dough right out of the oven and spread it around a bit while warm. The toasted almonds will have to be the decoration for the top. 

Naturally, cookies like these will only taste as good as the jam you use. I will vouch for the dough base. It is from McCall's Cookie Collection (1965). It can be flavored any number of ways. It can be used as a bar base, a tart shell or as a sliced refrigerator cookie. 

White Chocolate, Raspberry and Almond Bars
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup good raspberry jam
2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds (I use Trader Joe's)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whip the butter until fluffy. Gradually add in sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the almond extract and egg. Beat until well incorporated.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together onto wax paper or parchment. Gradually beat into the cookie dough. When fully mixed, pour the dough into a greased 9 X 13 inch baking pan. Spread the dough into the pan. (I lined the pan with parchment for easy removal.) Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. 

Remove the dough from the oven and either sprinkle with white chocolate chips and allow them to melt. Spread them a bit after they've melted. Alternatively, if you are brave, you can add the melted white chocolate later. Allow to cool completely. Once cool, spread with the raspberry jam. If you waited to add the white chocolate, do your best to pour or spread it on the jam now. Good Luck! Sprinkle with the almonds. They will slice more easily if allowed to set overnight.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Pesto Potato Puffs

 Another magic ingredient - PUFF PASTRY.

Being a home baker, I thought that I should one day try to make puff pastry or croissants myself, but it just seemed like such an undertaking. All that rolling and butter, rolling and butter. I never got around to trying it. 

Then came Food Network and Cooking Channel, and I noticed something important - even fancy, well-trained chefs use frozen puff pastry! Who knew! 

 I had a dish something like this at an Italian restaurant on the boardwalk in Ocean City MD. It was an unexpectedly delicious side dish to some fairly mediocre crab cakes. Really, this potato dish was the best thing I ate that night. When I saw frozen puff pastry at Trader Joe's, I decided to try to create my own version of their dish. Rather than seeking and chopping fresh herbs, I simply broke a hunk of pesto off one of my frozen slabs and used that for a lovely, garlicky flavor. I used Yukon Gold potatoes from the farmer's market. They were lovely and creamy. I boiled them in their jackets and halved them and pressed them through a ricer, cut side first. There was no need to peel them. When my potatoes were in a nice fluffy mound, I stirred in some butter, the pesto, some Parmesan cheese and half and half.
I used an ice cream scoop to load my pastry squares and baked them for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. I also brushed everything with melted butter and sprinkled a little extra Parm. Yum!

I've pretty much given you the instructions, but here are the proportions I used:

1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry
6 potatoes
2 tbsp. pesto
2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup half and half
salt and pepper
butter for brushing
a little extra Parm for sprinkling

This makes 8 squares. You can save half the potatoes and one puff pastry sheet for another meal, but they are very good reheated in the toaster oven.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quince and Pomegranate Jelly

 Quince are like magic. They are one of Nature's great pectin suppliers. Pomegranates and quinces both make their brief appearance at the farmers' market around the same time of year. I love the bright, jewel-toned color and tangy flavor of pomegranates. I wanted to make a pomegranate jelly without commercial pectin, so blending the juice with quince juice seemed like the perfect solution.
 One of my friends told me that farm families used to always have at least one quince tree to provide for their preserving needs. I was unable to get good photos of my quince, as I processed them the night before I made this jelly. They are a fuzzy, bumpy apple relative. Besides their gelling properties, their outstanding feature is their floral fragrance. Additionally, they turn a vibrant pink color when cooked. To cook them and extract their juice, scrub off their fuzzy coating and cut out the blossom end. Chop roughly, retaining the skin, core and seeds. Boil them in a large pot, covered with water, until they are very broken down and soft.
 I purchased 10 quinces and 10 pomegranates. I simmered the quinces for a couple of hours in 12 cups of water and strained the juice through cheese cloth and then a jelly bag. The result was 7 cups of juice, which I refrigerated until I was ready to get going. I cut the pomegranates into eighths and squeezed the heck out of them with my citrus juicer. This resulted in 3 cups of strained juice. Combined, I had 10 cups of juice, which was enough to make two batches of the following recipe. Generally, for a good jelly set, it is recommended to use 3/4 cup sugar per cup of juice. This is pretty darn sweet, but it is a true old-timey jelly. If you want a brighter flavor, use a recipe with more pomegranate juice and use a commercial pectin. This will give you a stronger pomegranate flavor and will shorten the cooking time significantly.

Quince and Pomegranate Jelly
5 cups combined quince and pomegranate juice
3 3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

Prepare jars, lids and the boiling water bath. Place some spoons and saucers in the freezer.

Place all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil until it reaches the gel stage, about 220 degrees. My thermometer is currently broken, so I tested the jelly by looking for the foam to subside, watched for the jelly to sheet off a spoon, and then tested on a frozen saucer. When a teaspoon of cool jelly wrinkles when pushed, it is done!

Remove from the heat and skim any remaining foam. Carefully ladle into prepared jars and top with lids. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the jars to a towel lined tray and allow to cool overnight. Wipe away any moisture and label in the morning.

Makes 5 half pint jars.
I think folks will like getting this for Christmas!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Marmalade and Nutella Sandwich Cookies

 Orange and chocolate are so good! 

I've been wanting to make some cookies with orange marmalade in the dough for some time. I love, love, LOVE my very own fussy-style orange marmalade, but you could use any marmalade that contains a goodly amount of peel. One of the great things about this type of refrigerator cookie is that you can wrap the dough and keep it for a couple of weeks. Just slice and bake when your holiday company drops by. Mr. Dwayne prefers these without Nutella. (He suffers from some sort of weird mutation that causes him to dislike chocolate. Imagine!) While they are good without Nutella, with it, they are SPLENDID.

Marmalade and Nutella Sandwich Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
6 tbsp. marmalade
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup almond meal (I used Trader Joe's)
About 1/2 cup Nutella

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until soft and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar, then the egg. Add the marmalade and vanilla and beat until well combined.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and almond meal. Stir to combine. Add to the butter mixture and mix until well combined.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured cutting board and roll into a log that is about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment. Unwrap the dough and slice the cookies into 1/4 inch slices and place on the parchment, about 1/2 inch apart. Bake for about 7 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. When they are done, remove to a rack and allow to cool. When cool, spread one cookie with about 1 teaspoon of Nutella and sandwich with another cookie. Store in an air tight container.

Makes 48 single cookies and 24 sandwich cookies.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pineapple and Pineapple Guava Jam

 Last weekend, my neighbor, Joanna, asked me if I wanted some guavas. Even though we've been living here for almost 29 years, I never knew there was a pineapple guava tree in her side yard. I've usually been pretty good at spotting fruit trees. I found a whole parking lot full of oranges last week! But, I never noticed these little green fruits hanging in that tree. It may be because the fruits of this tree are almost the exact same size and shape as the leaves. I had never eaten them before and had no idea how they would taste.
 Joanna said that she had been snacking on them and had also added them to a fruit salad for Thanksgiving. To eat them, you cut them in half and scoop them out, as shown above. They have a unique tropical flavor and scent. Apparently, the larger ones can become quite soft and transparent when ripe. These little guys taste a little bit like pears, but again, there is something truly unique that is unlike any other flavor.
Surprisingly, many of the recipes for guava jam that I found online had spices added to them. I like warm and spicy things for winter, but I thought that would just cover up the uniquely fresh taste of these tropical fruits. Instead, I decided to round out the flavor with pineapple. (You know me, I'm liable to throw pineapple into just about anything.) Per my research, guavas are high in pectin, so I did not use commercial pectin. The jam came out a little saucy, but delicious. I think I pulled it off the heat a little soon for fear it would scorch. The texture I got is similar to pineapple ice cream topping. There's nothing wrong with that!

Pineapple and Pineapple Guava Jam
4 cups pineapple guava pulp
2 cups pineapple (I used canned crushed pineapple in juice)
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 cups sugar

Prepare 5 half pint jars and lids and the boiling water bath. Place some spoons and saucers in the freezer.

Place all the ingredients into a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring frequently, until thick. The pineapple guava may float. To prevent this, mash them with a potato masher while cooking. Test on a frozen spoon or saucer. Once the jam cools, if it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it is done - about 220 degrees. Remove from heat and skim any foam. Stir for one minute to distribute the fruit. Carefully ladle into hot jars, wipe the rims and close the lids. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove to a towel lined tray and allow to cool overnight. Label in the morning.

Makes 5 half pints.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mocha Chiffon Pie

 I'm in love with chiffoning. I am a nouveau chiffoner. Chiffon me baby! Chiffon me!
 This pie is an adaptation of my Pappy's Coffee Chiffon Pie. I added half and half and chocolate and the result was this beautiful cloud of creamy goodness resting in a crisp and buttery crust.
I decorated mine with Hagelslag. That's Chocolate Jimmies to most of us Americans. If you can get good Hagelslag, it is a revelation. None of these little waxy bits we sometimes get on our ice cream. No, Hagelslag is real chocolate and melts in your mouth.

I will share Pappy's original recipe first, so you can see where I have changed it. I have to say, I'm mystified by the lemon juice in his preparation. I didn't miss it at all.

Pappy's Coffee Chiffon Pie
1 packet Knox gelatin
3/4 cup strong coffee (cold)
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup hot coffee
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Soak gelatin in cold coffee. Beat egg yolks slightly. Add 1/2 cup sugar, salt and hot coffee and cook over boiling water until thick like a custard. Add gelatin and lemon juice. Cool slightly. Beat egg whites until stiff. With remaining sugar, fold into the custard and put into a baked pie shell and put into icebox to set.

My Mocha Chiffon Pie
One pie shell, baked and cooled
1 packet Knox gelatin
3/4 cup cold water plus 1 tbsp. Medaglia d'oro instant espresso
3/4 cups sugar, divided
4 eggs, separated
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup half & half plus 1 tsp. Medaglia d'oro instant espresso
1 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Dissolve the gelatin and 3 tsp. instant espresso in 3/4 cup cold water. Set aside.

Add the egg yolks, half & half, 1 tsp. instant espresso, salt and 1/2 cup sugar to the top of a double boiler. Cook over briskly simmering water, stirring constantly. Once this mixture has become hot, stir in the chocolate pieces. Continue to cook until it thickens into a custard. Stir in the gelatin mixture and remove to glass bowl and place in the fridge to cool. Stir periodically as it is cooling.

When the custard has cooled at least to room temperature, beat the egg whites with 1/2 tsp. vanilla. When soft peaks have formed, beat in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Continue beating until stiff peaks form and the egg whites are glossy.

Fold a small amount of the egg whites into the custard mixture to lighten it. Fold in remaining egg whites until well incorporated. Mound into a baked and cooled pie shell. Sprinkle with Hagelslag, if desired. Chill until set.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Families Recipes - Pappy's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

 A page out of our family's history.

Some time ago, my Grandma Betty gave me my Pappy's old cookbook. He was a chef in a restaurant hotel in Seattle in the 1930's. Over the years, my mom has commented on the light and luscious pumpkin chiffon pie that Pappy used to make for the holidays. Here is the page in his book that shows this pie. I thought that he had typed the recipes in the book, but my mom said he didn't really type. The recipes are clearly for the restaurant and some of them are for very large quantities. Maybe the hotel issued this book to him. I will ask Grandma Betty when I see her next. 

I tried making a chiffon pie when I was in my 20's and it never set. Having good success with other pies, I just let it go. Somehow gelatin that was not Jell-o seemed too advanced for me. I'm delighted to say that my first attempt at this pie was very successful. I made this for my mom and grandma to enjoy and remember Pappy at Thanksgiving. 

The great thing about success with this technique is that a whole new world of chiffon pies is now open to me. The flavoring possibilities are endless. In fact, there are at least a dozen variations on this pie in Pappy's book. I'm excited to try them all - lemon, pineapple, chocolate, coffee, orange! Yum!
 Because we have some frail elders in our family, I wanted to make sure I used the most excellent eggs possible. These four beauties came from the backyard chickens of my friends, Paula and Laura. No possibility of salmonella here!
 The yolks were a gorgeous orange and the whites stood at attention!
This pie is light as air, smooth as silk and subtly spiced. 

I hope you consider investigating your family's holiday traditions and recipes this holiday season. I know that there was so much I took for granted until my elders began to leave us. I am  grateful to still have my grandma and to have become the keeper of my family's cookbooks.  It is an honor.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie
1 prepared crust
1 envelope Knox gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs (I used four because they were smaller than commercial eggs)
1 1/4 cups pumpkin
1/2 tsp. ginger (dry, ground ginger)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup sugar (divided)

Soften the gelatin in the water and set aside. 

In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, combine the egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, pumpkin, milk, salt and spices. Cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin. Pour the pumpkin mixture into a bowl and place in the fridge to cool. Stir from time to time as it cools. (Mine took about an hour.)

When the pumpkin mixture has cooled, beat the egg whites. When soft peaks form, beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until glossy.

Fold one scoop of the egg whites into the pumpkin mixture to lighten it. Fold in remaining egg whites. When combined, mound into the prepared pie crust and chill until set. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Potato & Chickpea Curry with Easy Cheater Garam Masala

I am a curry novice. I love curry a whole bunch. With Madelyn's tutelage, I learned that curry could be easy. I mean, it can be so darn complex tasting that I viewed it as some kind of special alchemy. Little did I know that a very passable Thai Curry could be thrown together with prepared curry paste and a can of coconut milk! Bada Boom! Bada Bing! 

You may recall my one New Year's resolution for 2011 - Make beans from dry and no more cans! So far, I've been 100% canned bean free. I've been doing a lot of searches for recipes to use beans up and add some variety to my lunches. In one search for chickpeas, I came across this post at As I read it and spied Campbell's Tomato soup on the ingredient list, I was intrigued. I recalled that the last time I ate tikka paneer and garlic nan with Miss Paula at Pooja Indian Grill, it was remarkably like eating grilled cheese with tomato soup, only deconstructed and spicy! I thought, why not give this crazy idea a try!

I had a hard time finding garam masala, so I made some from the spices I had on hand. I understand that whole, toasted and freshly ground spices are far superior. But I really wanted to make this from pantry items to see if I liked it before going all out. This simple recipe has given me a good result and the confidence to move forward with my curry curiosity. The only changes I made to the recipe were to slice the onion instead of dicing and I added about 1 1/2 cups frozen peas. Surprisingly, this was not very hot, so I added some generous shakes of Tapatio hot sauce. I imagine it would have been more authentic with more cayenne, but hey, how authentic can you be with a can of tomato soup!

Easy Cheater Garam Masala
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
dash cayenne pepper

Mix and store in an air tight container.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Steamed Eggs & Kale

One of the reasons I started posting RFF is that some things are just rediculously good, but they are so simple that writing up a recipe seems almost a little condescending. I like to share because sometimes I've discovered really yummy things somewhat late in life. Maybe there are others like me, who are trying to eat more greens and they've never tried this combo before. I've done plenty of omelettes and fritattas, but those scramble the eggs. These steamed eggs offer the rich, warm yolk as a perfect sauce for the greens.
I will also confess that I have never mastered the art of poaching eggs, although I like them very much.  This is a sort of greens-assisted, safety-first poached egg. I've had good success every time.

Although there is no recipe, I'll tell you what I did. I added about a tablespoon of water (from my morning kettle) to a small saute pan. (Do you have a special egg pan?) I heated the pan over a medium-low heat, then I put in a generous handfull of leftover steamed kale. (It was simply stemmed, chopped and steamed until tender.) Once the pan was warm, I made a little opening in the kale and broke in two eggs. I seasoned with salt and pepper and put on a lid. For my perfect eggs, it looks like 4 minutes on the #3 setting of my stove. You will have to experiment with your stove. I'm delighted to report that this dish is so easy, I can be trusted to make it before daylight and coffee on a weekday morning and still make it to work on time! Enjoy your breakfast veggies!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Black bean, Pork & Winter Squash Stew

This is an experimental model. I think it came out pretty darn good. Miss Paula came by and helped me with the spicing and took a good portion home. I'm glad she did. This is not something Mr. Dwayne would enjoy, and I can't seem to make soup in batches smaller than a full pot.

The inspiration for this stew came from half a butternut squash languishing in my fridge. Also, the cool weather has made me positively crave beans. I'm looking forward to my lunch tomorrow! Yum!

Black bean, Pork & Winter Squash Stew
3 tbsp. peanut oil
1 lb. pork (I used boneless sirloin chops)
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. coriander
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
3/4 cup sweet corn kernels
1 7 oz. can diced green chiles
2 cups winter squash, peeled and cubed
2 cups diced tomatoes in their juice
1/2 chopped cilantro
5 cups cooked black beans (2 cups dry)
2 cups bean cooking liquid or broth

Garnish suggestions - avocado, sour cream, cilantro

If using dry beans, soak beans overnight. Drain and rinse. Either add to a crock pot with 6 cups water, or add to a stock pot on the stove with 6 cups of water. Simmer until tender. (The crock pot does a great job of this while you are at work!) My 2 cups of dry beans and 6 cups of water finished with 5 cups of beans and 2 cups of liquid. You may use canned beans to good effect, but may need to reduce the salt.

Wash, dry and cut the pork into 1/2 inch cubes. Combine all spices, salt and sugar and stir into the pork. Let stand while you cut up the vegetables. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot. Add the pork and brown, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, onion, sweet corn, green chiles, squash, tomatoes and cilantro. Bring to a simmer. Add the beans and bean juice or broth and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the pork is tender. Taste for seasoning and serve. Makes way too much for me!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Red Raspberry Jam

Seems like this was a good year for raspberries. This might just be my perspective because it is the first year I've sought them out in quantity. I thought I might have to go to a you-pick farm, which actually sounds kind of fun. But, the universe contrived to provide me with raspberries easily and affordably. My first batches were early summer fruits that I found at Costco. Remarkably, they were both local and organic. This is one of the great things about living in an agricultural area. Recently, fall raspberries came in and Safeway had them from the same grower at buy one, get two free. These were not organic, but were still local, and I couldn't resist. 

Raspberries are so special and jewel-like. They are Mr. Dwayne's favorite flavor for jam and desserts. One of my co-workers told me about a raspberry/chipotle dipping sauce he had at a local restaurant. He explained this sauce with a convincing amount of rapture on his face. I thought I would experiment with a spicy raspberry jam, but Mr. Dwayne said, "Awe...Don't **** with the raspberries!" Because they are so precious and special in themselves, I bowed to his wishes and made the jam straight-up. (I can always whip up a little chipotle sauce with the jam later!)

This jam is super easy and these berries have enough pectin to set dependably. If you are a beginner, raspberries may be the perfect place to start. You will obtain spectacular results with a minimum of effort.

Red Raspberry Jam
3 lbs. red raspberries, washed and picked over
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

Prepare 6 half-pint jars and lids and prepare the boiling water bath. Place several spoons on a saucer in the freezer.

Add the raspberries, sugar and lemon juice to a large pot. (I love my 8 quart pot.) Stir to combine and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, stirring frequently, until the foam subsides and the jam begins to look glossy. (About 220 degrees, if using a thermometer.) Use one of the spoons from the freezer to scoop out a small amount of jam. Place it back in the freezer and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. If the jam does not run off the spoon easily, mounds up when pushed and tastes good, you are there.

Remove the jam from the heat. Remove any foam and stir for a few minutes to distribute fruit. Carefully ladle into prepared jars. Wipe rims and top with lids. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Once the jam has processed 10 minutes, turn off the heat and wait for the water to settle down. Carefully remove the jars to a towel lined tray. Do not be tempted to tip off the water! Let cool over night. Check seals and label the next day.

My experience with this jam is that it will solidify over the next few days. I don't mind a soft set and often estimate by eye and taste. When I opened up a jar of this jam several weeks later, it scooped and spread as well as any commercial jam.

Makes 6 half-pints.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Refried Beans

My second favorite eating utensil is corn chips. (The first, of course, being my hands.) However, I do have to be careful. Portion control is a must. I've learned from painful experience that if I sit down with a bag of corn chips I'm liable to go unconscious and wake up with something resembling a brick of scrapple in my belly and an empty bag of chips on my lap. For some reason potato chips do not affect me in the same way.

This dinner was eaten with corn chips. Mmmmm. When I was a Girl Scout, we did something like this and called it broken tacos. Really, it's more like a seven layer dip. For this meal, I had the beans hot and everything else cold. I packed the same thing with cold beans for lunch the next day and enjoyed it just as much.

I made the refried beans out of cranberry beans. They are a lot like pinto beans, but create a deeper mahogany liqueur and are a little larger. I set the beans to cook in the crock pot in the morning and did the rest when I got home from work. I layered the flavorful beans with garden tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, cheese, Greek yogurt, cilantro and Tapatio hot sauce. These refried beans are way more interesting than any you will get out of a can. Even if you start with canned beans, I hope you will consider doctoring them up as I have done these. They are delicioso!

Refried Beans
2 cups dried beans
2 tbsp. oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 7 oz. can diced green chiles
Salt and Pepper to taste

Sort and wash the beans. Place them in a container and cover them with water and allow to soak overnight. (As an alternative method, you can do a quick soak by bringing the washed beans to a boil in plenty of water. Turn off the heat and let them stand at least 1 hour. I think over night soaking makes for a more tender bean.)

The next morning, drain and rinse the beans. Place the beans in a crock pot and cover with water. Use enough water to cover the beans by at least two inches. Set the crock pot on low for 8 hours.

When the beans are nice and tender. Drain them, reserving 1/2 cup of the liquid. Set aside.

In a large skillet, saute the onions, garlic, spices and about 1 tsp. salt in the oil until the onions are translucent and the spices are fragrant. Add the green chiles and the beans and stir to combine. Add enough of the reserved bean liquid to get the consistency you find most pleasing. Simmer for about 5 minutes and adjust seasoning.

I didn't measure my end product, but this makes quite a bit, probably about 6 cups. Leftovers can be frozen for another day. Enjoy!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Crumbly Greens

Well, folks, pesto is making an appearance in the third RFF recipe in a row. When you have a big jar of pesto in the fridge, you've got to use it, right? Pesto ended up in this recipe because I used up all my garlic making the pesto last weekend. This recipe usually calls for garlic, but it got a couple of tablespoons of pesto instead. I have to say, this substitution was a lucky discovery.

This recipe is adapted from Laurel's Kitchen. This is a great book for working delicious variety into your vegetable preparations. Veggies can shine as the star of a meal. As we've moved towards a more healthy diet, I have tended to spend my creative efforts more on the side dishes than the proteins. Also, Mr. Dwayne, who would never eat plain, steamed kale, loves this dish. I predict that you will convert your greens haters with this one! I've tried this with a few different kinds of greens, but steamed curly kale is my favorite here. Kale is tender, but still has a good bite. Kale has less moisture than many other greens and the curly edges of the leaves capture the crumb topping and become nice and crispy.

Crumbly Greens (Susan Style)
3 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, chopped
2 tablespoons pesto or 2 cloves garlic, minced

2 (packed) cups steamed kale (stemmed and coarsely chopped before steaming)
3 pieces of fresh whole wheat bread
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, well seasoned, cast iron pan. Add the shallots and saute until slightly softened (about 3 minutes). Add the pesto and stir to combine with the shallots. Add the kale and stir to combine. Place the bread in a food processor and add a good pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse until the bread is broken down into coarse crumbs. Add to the kale mixture and toss to coat. If your cast iron pan is not well seasoned, you may need to add a little more oil if the bread crumbs begin to stick. Allow the crumb-coated kale to brown for 2-3 minutes before each tossing with a spatula. The longer you cook it, the more crispy it will become.

Serves 2 to 3 as a spectacular side dish.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fig and Orange Marmalade

Everything has been late this year. It's October, but the farmers' market is still looking like early September. Tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and peaches are all still coming in like gangbusters. This week I even saw baskets of figs. If you read this post, you know how I feel about figs. They are a miracle of nature. I was lucky enough to visit my friend Diane's fig trees a few weeks ago. She lives by the river and her trees have access to a pretty high water table. These generous trees not only provided figs, but held up wild grapes. There were beautiful purple clusters hanging down like Christmas tree ornaments.   While there are many advantages to living by a river, you must share your land's bounty with the local wild life. Deer, raccoons and birds all feast on these fruits. I wasn't able to reach any of the grapes. I don't think my reach is any higher than a deer's. I was lucky to find a couple of pounds of figs that had just ripened and had not yet been enjoyed.
 I was contemplating making a third batch of fig and balsamic jam, but didn't have enough figs and I had run out of the very good balsamic vinegar I had been using. So, I decided to go with another classic pairing - figs and oranges.
When you open the jar, the orange scent hits first. When you taste, the orange and fig flavors meld with the figs bringing their own velvety, crunchy texture. Figs are the beaded velvet ball gown of Nature! The color is reminiscent of a late evening sunset. Enjoy!

Fig and Orange Marmalade
6 cups chopped figs
4 oranges (I used organic Valencia)
1/2 cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar

Place the chopped figs, lemon juice and sugar in a large non-reactive bowl and let macerate while you prepare the oranges.

Remove the orange zest. I used a peeling tool that cuts into little strips. Place the orange zest in a sauce pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain.

Cut the remaining peel off the oranges and remove the segments without getting any of the pith or membranes. Be sure to do this over the bowl so you capture any juices. Squeeze any remaining juice out of the peels. Stir the orange zest and orange segments and juice into the fig mixture. You can store this in the fridge until you are ready to jam. (I often do weeknight canning in increments.)

Prepare the boiling water bath and place some spoons on a saucer in the freezer. Prepare the jars and lids.

Place the fig and orange mixture in a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil until it is thick and glossy. If you wish, you can scoop out some of the foam and seeds that float to the top as you stir. I fished out about a quarter cup of seeds! My thermometer is broken, so I'm depending on how the jam looks and tastes. When the jam begins to thicken and the foam subsides, begin testing with your frozen spoons. When the jam mounds nicely and runs off the spoon slowly instead of fast, you are pretty much there. There is a certain mouth feel that tells me when it is done. Taste as you go, but let it cool first!

When the jam is ready, carefully ladle it into the prepared jars. Wipe the rim with a clean, wet cloth and top with lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the jars sit in the water bath a few minutes more. Carefully remove the jars to a towel lined tray. Allow to stand over night. Check the seals and wipe away any remaining moisture and label.

Makes 7 half pint jars.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Easy Pesto Aioli

Friday night has become date night for myself and Mr. Dwayne. This might be one of the reasons my Random Food Friday posts have become a little irregular. Date night usually consists of a nice meal and some fun errands. Don't ask me how, but Mr. Dwayne makes errands fun. We can't be the only long-term couple that gets excited about a trip to Costco or the farmers' market.

This week was super busy and work has supplied me with plenty of urgency. (Trying to quit that, by the way. The urgency, not the job.) We had already eaten so many lunches and dinners out this week that we decided what we wanted for date night was a simple night at home. Here we have chicken thighs again. (Costco has now has organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs.) I simply seasoned them well with salt, pepper and garlic powder and seared them off in a large cast iron skillet with a little olive oil. What made this meal yummy was the assembly of sandwich components. 

These made for one fine sammy:
Bella Bru sour dough
Perfectly ripe avocado
Perfectly ripe tomato
Sweet red onions
A little lettuce
and (drum roll, please...)
Pesto Aioli

So, borrowing from this post, stir together equal parts pesto and mayo and spread generously.

One of the reasons I like to enjoy really good sandwiches in the privacy of my own home.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Tomato Ricotta Tart from Jesse's Kitchen

I have a hobby shared by thousands of people around the world. Somehow, we've become a loosely related but interactive community. We inspire our friends and family and each other. I am one of many. I am a fan girl - a food blog fan girl - and I participate.

This Friday, I am sharing a recipe from a site I recently found - Jesse's Kitchen. I have half a dozen of her posts bookmarked already. She is enthusiastic and makes all of her recipes seem supremely accessible. Once I found her site, I was captured for hours, pouring over all the yummy possibilities.

I made this Tomato Ricotta Tart for a special lunch when Miss Madelyn was home for a visit. Between the three of us, we devoured it in no time at all. (This is why I never quite believe that number of servings thing.) It was easy, yummy and impressive. Look at how beautifully those lightly roasted tomatoes present themselves! Please tell Jesse I told you to try it!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tonight's Dinner - Walnut and Basil Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta

I knew we were having chicken thighs tonight but not much else. When you take something out of the freezer, you kind of commit. We had a lively discussion on the way home about the fate of said chicken. Mr. Dwayne said, "Didn't you have a plan last night? I thought you said what you were going to make something - something with vegetables." I probably say a lot of things about vegetables, but I had no recollection of a plan. This was almost Easy Mu Shu Chicken. It was almost Chicken with Jam Sauce. Heck, it was almost hot dogs and chips. (Mr. Dwayne's suggestion.) In the end I opted for breaded chicken thighs with a pesto pasta side. My basil went crazy this year and it's time to harvest and make pesto for the freezer. I like walnuts for pesto because of the nutty flavor and texture. If you want to tone down the nuttiness, use pine nuts in half the quantity that I use for walnuts here.  I also think the nuttiness compliments the whole wheat pasta. Because the whole dish was nutty and chewy, Mr. Dwayne did not even notice this was whole wheat pasta until I told him.

This basic pesto recipe can be varied in numerous ways. Add more cheese or different cheese or no cheese at all. Substitute all or part of the basil for other herbs. Use nut oils instead of olive oil. The one thing I would insist upon is a goodly amount of garlic. This recipe makes enough to sauce up to a pound of pasta. It would also be delicious as a pizza topper or sandwich spread. Store left over pesto in the refrigerator in an air-tight container with a layer of olive oil covering the top. The oil will protect the basil and prevent discoloration. I've never frozen pesto before and plan to give this recipe a try. I'll let you know how it freezes once we try it out.

Walnut and Basil Pesto
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup freshly grated cheese (I used a mixture of Parmesan and Romano)
2 cups basil leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place the garlic, nuts and cheese in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely ground. Add the basil leaves and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Close and turn on the food processor and pour the olive oil slowly into the pour spout. Process until a uniform paste forms. Taste and adjust seasoning. (The amount of salt that you need to add with vary depending on the saltiness of the cheese.)

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain well and return to hot pot. Stir in desired amount of pesto and serve immediately.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pear, Lemon and Cardamom Jam

Whenever I'm on my own for a meal, or going out with my best girl friends, I always opt for "Non-Dwayne Foods." This usually means Thai, Vietnamese or Indian food. Mr. Dwayne's palate has stretched considerably in the time we've know each other. Still, most highly flavored ethnic foods are right out.

One of my favorite quick meals is banh mi at Huang Lan Sandwiches in South Sacramento. (#7 - Grilled Pork - $3!) These are the freshest, most flavorful and most affordable sandwiches in town. These sandwiches are the sole reason I learned to eat jalapenos! I've learned to love the heat! They are hot, sweet, sour, creamy, crunchy, fresh and savory - practically every flavor at once. Add a Vietnamese iced coffee and you have a very nearly perfect meal.

Whenever I visit Huang Lan, I check to see if there are bags of produce hanging around. I think that some family members must have fruit trees. They don't usually sell produce, but every now and then there are fruity treasures tied up in plastic bags and sold at rediculous prices. I've scored kumquats, persimmons, Asian pears and now, Bartlett pears. I bought two plastic bags stuffed with pears for $1.75 per bag. I didn't weigh them, but I'm thinking they were close to 8 lbs. total. I can't know how these pears were raised, but they were local and they were bumpy and flawed enough to make me think no one was fussing over them too much.
I've had a recipe for pear and cardamom jam on my favorites list since last year. I figured this was my big chance. As usual, this recipe is a combination of several that I read. My sniffer told me to up the ante on the lemon, and I'm glad I did. The subtle sweetness of the pears is a perfect back drop for the lemon high note. The fragrant cardamom comes through at the finish. It is delicious with mild cheeses such as cottage cheese or ricotta. I think it would make a superb cheese cake topping.

Three out of three tasters agree - eye-rollingly good.*

I'm excited that the pear and apple seasons are just getting started. I have become much more efficient at processing these kinds of fruits. For this jam, I peeled the pears and used my V-Slicer to slice strips of pear right off the core. It went super fast! I then ran my knife through the pear sticks in the opposite direction and came out with a nice uniform dice. I don't think I will core and slice a pear or apple again!

Pear, Lemon and Cardamom Jam
4 lbs. of peeled and chopped pears
1/2 cup lemon juice
zest of one lemon
4 cups sugar
6 cardamom pods

Prepare boiling water bath, jars and lids. Place several spoons on a saucer in the freezer.

Combine the pears, lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar in a large pot. Place the cardamom pods in a mortar and pound them lightly to open the pods and release the seeds. Place the pods and seeds in a wire mesh tea ball or in a sachet made out of cheese cloth. Add the cardamom packet to the fruit. Bring to a boil. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally. When the jam begins to thicken and approach 220 degrees, begin to test by scooping a small amount onto one of the frozen spoons. Place the spoon back in the freezer until no longer hot but not cold. If it mounds up and does not run easily off the spoon, it is done. I've also learned to taste the jam for the mouth feel. I've come to like a softer set and rarely progress to a jam that sets up as a solid.

When the jam has thickened to your liking, remove the cardamom packet. Remove the pot from the heat and skim any foam. Carefully ladle into hot, prepared jars. Leave 1/4 inch head space. Check for bubbles and use a bamboo skewer or chopstick to release the trapped air. Wipe the rims and top with lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the jars to remain in the boiling water bath for 5 minutes then carefully remove to a towel lined tray. Allow to come to cool overnight before labeling for storage.

Makes 3 pints.

*One of the tasters was me.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fig and Balsamic Jam

Ah figs. So expensive to buy, so abundant if you have a tree. Figs are one of those super productive plants that become expensive simply because of the difficulty of handling. Fig trees grow all over California, and I've scoped out many volunteers who grow and produce even without irrigation. I recently found one just a block from my office in an unused and unfenced field. It's loaded with green figs now, so I don't know if birds or people have been plucking the ripe ones as they appear. You can bet I will be watching.

What you see above is a grilled cheese sandwich made with organic sharp white cheddar and some of this figgy jam on Rachelle's fresh baked bread. Heaven. If you want to convince someone that canning is a good idea, break this one out. You will not find this jam on your store's shelf. Sometimes the food fates conspire to provide abundance and excellence and I am lucky enough to be there to stir the pot.

My friends, Paula and Laura, have a fig tree. Whenever I visit, I always check their tree and help myself for snacking. When Laura asked me if I wanted some figs, I said, "Sure!" I was expecting a few pints for snacking but came home from work one night to find four pounds in a brown grocery bag - way too many for me to eat before they went bad. I hadn't made jam with figs and began to search for a good recipe. This recipe is an amalgam of several recipes. The primary inspiration came from Sherri Brooks Vinton's book, Put 'em Up. Her recipe for Sticky Fig jam inspired me to use balsamic vinegar as a flavor enhancer. The proportions come from finding a recipe online that fitted my amount of figs. The addition of half a cup of lemon juice comes from me tasting and adjusting. I can declare this an unmitigated success.

One key to the success of this recipe is the use of an extraordinary balsamic vinegar. We came across this vinegar while visiting the Olivier shop in St. Helena. A wise sales woman urged us to try it. I would not usually spend $16.50 0n a bottle of vinegar, but one taste was all it took. I was hooked and still am. Even a few drops of this magic elixir will enhance and elevate a dish.
Some of the fig jam recipes I read required that the figs be peeled. This really had me scratching my head. Why?Look at the lovely black coats on these mission figs. I used them as is. I simply washed them and cut them into large chunks. I think both the skin and the large size of the chunks have enhanced the final product.
I hope you are in relationship with a fig tree that will contribute to your overall joy. If you ever have an excess of ripe figs, now you know exactly what to do. (Or, you can call me!)

Fig and Balsamic Jam
8 cups chopped figs
4 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup very good balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water

Prepare jars, lids, rings and boiling water bath. Place several spoons on a saucer in the freezer.

Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Continue to boil, reducing heat when the jam starts to thicken. Use a potato masher to break down the figs as they cook. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. When jam begins to reach a desirable thickness, scoop a little out onto one of the spoons from the freezer and place it back in the freezer to cool to room temp. When the jam mounds nicely and does not run quickly off the spoon, it is ready. (My thermometer is broken, so I had to eyeball this one. I expect that it would come just to 220 degrees and be ready immediately.)

Remove the jam from the heat and skim off any foam. (By the time mine was ready, it had no foam at all.) Ladle into hot prepared jars. Wipe the rims and top with prepared lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the boiling water bath and wait 5 minutes to carefully remove the jars to a towel lined tray. Allow to cool, undisturbed, until room temperature. Wipe off any excess water and label.

Makes 10 half pints.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

My Family's Recipes - Apple Slice

My mother-in-law, Pat, has been making Apple Slice since the 70's. It's weird to think that this means this dessert has been around for over 30 years. It is one of the first desserts I remember having at my new boy friend's house way back when. Mr. Dwayne likes this dessert because the fruit to crust ratio favors the crust. Big time.
All these years later, I am making this dessert for the Covey boys. We now get to make it with Macs from Bill's lovely mature tree. As fall rolls around and you visit Apple Hill or just take advantage of the new crop of apples at the farmers' market, I hope you will try this yummy apple treat.

Apple Slice
For the Crust:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 cup shortening
1 egg (separated)
enough milk added to the egg yolk to make 2/3 cup

For the filling:
2/3 cup corn flakes
5 cups apple slices
1 1/2 cups sugar (I only used one and think 3/4 cup would be plenty)
1 tsp. cinnamon

Combine the flour, sugar and salt. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Whisk the egg yolk and milk together and stir into the flour mixture. Press the dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill if not using right away.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out half the dough and place on a cookie sheet. (Pat used to be able to completely line a jelly roll pan. I had more of an oblong on my cookie sheet.) Layer the corn flakes, apples, sugar and cinnamon on the prepared dough, leaving 1 inch clear along the edges. (There is no indication of dotting with butter in Pat's written recipe, but I think it a good idea.) Combine the egg white with 1 tablespoon water and whisk to combine. Brush the clear area on the edge of the dough with the egg white mixture. Roll out the remaining dough to fit over all. Seal and crimp the edges. Brush top of dough with the remaining egg white mixture. Cut a few slits in top crust to allow steam to escape. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes.

Remove from oven. If desired, drizzle with a glaze made from 1/2 cup powdered sugar combined with 2 teaspoons lemon juice.

Makes 8 servings

Friday, September 2, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Clean-Out-the-Fridge Green Curry

As I enjoyed this spicy and creamy dish, I reflected that coconut milk curry is almost like the cream of mushroom soup of easy Thai cuisine. It really couldn't be any easier. About four cups of random veggies, a blop of Mae Ploy green curry paste and a can of coconut milk and you've got a great dish. I used onion, patty pan squash, eggplant, leftover green beans and some Sungold tomatoes from the garden. I like my curry rich and spicy, so I used about three tablespoons of the curry paste and full fat coconut milk. You can saute the veggies for a bit before adding the curry paste and coconut milk, but it's really ready to eat as soon as it is heated through. Serve with rice, if you wish. I was lazy and had mine with crackers. You could really make this any old way you wish. Yum!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Well Preserved's Blueberry Maple Jam

Yes, I will admit it. I succumbed to imported blueberries from Costco. I missed the local blueberry season. After I decided to commit to work-week jam making due to the magical appearance of local, organic raspberries at Costco, I thought, "Oh what the heck. I really wanted to try that blueberry/maple jam and this may be my last chance." So, here you have it - 5 half pints of blueberry magic.
Well Preserved has become one of my favorite food blogs. This Blueberry Maple Jam flew through the interwebs, inspiring jammers across the nation. It is well worth trying and would be a great jam for beginners. One of the reason berries are a good mid-week jamming project is that there is very little fruit prep. Wash those berries and mash them around a bit and you are ready to go.

The good folks at Well Preserved mentioned that this jam results in a soft set due the additional liquid provided by the maple syrup. The only change I made to their recipe was to use 2/3 cup of home made apple pectin. (I used these instructions from Tigress and froze the apple pectin in 2/3 cup portions.) Mr. Dwayne says it is nummy.